Cherished Hearts, Inc. hosted a community breakfast at the Y.W.C.O. on Wednesday, September 14 from 8 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. to discuss their efforts to bring a children’s advocacy center to Jones County. Children’s advocacy centers are third-party organizations that help children and their families navigate the legal system and find therapeutic resources when a child has experienced abuse or other trauma. Beth Brown of Cherished Hearts and members of their board of directors were on-hand to discuss the services offered by children’s advocacy centers and to answer questions from the community members who attended. Representatives from local law enforcement agencies including Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox, and JD Carter and Priscilla Pitts from the Jones County Sheriff’s office were also available to discuss the serious need for this type of facility in Jones County. Currently, children and families in need of these services are required to go to Gulfport. Getting those sessions can often take several weeks, sometimes up to two months, according to Carter who stated that he currently has 10 cases requiring forensic interviews.
In addition to introducing the organization to the community, the event was an opportunity for Cherished Hearts members to connect with people who could provide guidance and support. Representatives from United Way, Mississippi Child Protective Services, the Jones County Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations attended. During the meeting, guests were able to brainstorm ideas for helping the organization in moving forward including finding a physical location and beefing up fundraising efforts. Currently, the largest hurdle for the organization is funding. While they are preparing to apply for grants and have already received a Venture grant from United Way of the Pine Belt Region, they still face many hurdles to opening. One issue that was discussed during the meeting was the need for a facility that could accommodate a reception area, a couple of offices, and at least one interview room where forensic interviews could be conducted and recorded. Once a place is found, it will have to be approved by the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi.